Brutal war in Gaza Strip has no clear winner as ceasefire sets in
Both Israelis and Palestinians see a victory in the ruins of the Gaza Strip, but the only certainty is that the human cost has been high
In the wake of any ugly conflict, the question of who won can seem beside the point.
Still, as fighting in the Gaza Strip gave way to a truce on Tuesday, Israel and Hamas were both quick to claim victory.
And it was left to those who took the pounding during the four-week war, particularly residents of the luckless sliver of seaside territory, to ask if anything of worth could be found.
On the first day of the most durable-seeming ceasefire since the conflict erupted on July 8, each side claimed to have dealt the other a heavy blow while achieving significant aims of its own. Hamas depicted Israel as irretrievably tarred in the eyes of the world and as having proved vulnerable to the warren of tunnels under Gaza and its boundaries. Israel portrayed Hamas as a willing executioner of its own people, a fighting force left crippled and a pariah to its Arab neighbours.
"Mission accomplished," an Israeli army spokesman tweeted as the 72-hour ceasefire, which held all day, began at 8am. "We have destroyed tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel. All of Israel is now safer."
Hamas official Sami abu Zuhri, speaking to the movement's Al Aqsa television, boasted that the tenacity of Gaza's defenders had deprived Israel of its traditional power of deterrence. "[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has failed 100 per cent in Gaza" he said, adding Hamas still had "much that we can do".
For Gaza residents, the picture was sadder and more complicated. To Mustafa Taha, shepherding his family of nine back to their half-ruined house in Gaza's battered northern tier, the recent suffering seemed pointless.
"What did anyone gain by this?" he asked, teetering atop a jumble of household possessions piled into a donkey-drawn cart.
Some on the Israeli side agreed that the country's third war with Hamas in six years had yielded little in the way of strategic advantage. "Neither side won," said newspaper columnist Danny Rubinstein.
In Gaza, particularly in areas that lie close to Israel, whole districts were levelled, with piles of rubble where homes once stood.
Nearly 1,900 Palestinians were killed, about 400 children among them, by the estimate of human-rights groups. Already feeble infrastructure was smashed and about 400,000 people - nearly a quarter of the territory's population - were displaced by fighting.
On the Israeli side, civilian deaths over the last month could be counted on one hand - three, including a Thai farm worker. But the deaths of 64 troops amounted to military loss on a scale not seen in nearly a decade.
But Israel's hope that Gazans would blame Hamas for the carnage appeared largely unrealised. Even at the height of the fighting, Palestinians tended to offer only the most muted criticism of Hamas, and coupled their words with far harsher condemnation of Israel.
Pro-Hamas sentiment could shift, however, if the movement is unable after so many deaths to make headway in negotiations on its principal demand: that Israel and Egypt ease their tight curtailment of goods and people in and out of the strip.
"In bombings you die instantly," said a gold merchant in Gaza. "Maybe that is better than dying slowly in this blockade."
Watch: Netanyahu: Gaza operation was 'justified, proportionate'